293. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State 1

925. 1. At his request, I spent an hour May 15 with General Lon Nol at his residence. For first time, we were completely alone.

2. Lon Nol began conversation by asking me what I thought of present situation. In reply, I said that I assumed that GOC was encountering some economic difficulties, that I had found its diplomatic [Page 977] actions most able, but that the main problem appeared be immediate military threat.

3. PriMin immediately jumped on last point and in large part repeated what he has said previously regarding desires of GOC to be able to equip sizable force for regaining control of Cambodian territory and defense of Cambodia in future.

4. He dwelt at some length on reorganization of FARK presently taking place under which brigades and divisions being formed. He stressed that these formations required more than light weapons presently being supplied by GVN and USG and asked again for artillery, tanks and aircraft. He insisted that, aside from needs of military, such weapons, especially the aircraft, would do much for the “morale” of the population in NVNA/VC occupied territory when it would see its own aircraft attacking the enemy.

5. In reply, I told Lon Nol that I intended to speak more frankly than I ever had before in order to dispell any doubts about USG policies and how far I felt that USG could go in assisting Cambodia. I informed him that President’s decision regarding intrusion into Cambodia as a temporary and limited exercise was firm and that he should not expect further US troop involvement in Cambodian affairs. I told him that the President’s declaration in his speech of April 30 regarding limited aid to Cambodia was also a serious one and not done merely for political reasons. While not wishing to discourage him, I wished to make quite clear that he should not expect tanks, heavy artillery, aircraft from US sources. I did reassure him that President Nixon’s promise to help was sincere and that USG would provide assistance. Meanwhile, it was also to be hoped that other friendly powers would step in and help Cambodia, expecially once the Djakarta Conference was over.

6. Not unexpectedly, Lon Nol’s reaction was a little startled and had a somewhat annoyed tone. He indicated that now that Cambodia had chosen its position vis-à-vis communism, he felt it had right to expect more than token assistance from the US. If such assistance not forthcoming, he did not see the use in continuing the struggle which involved Cambodian lives and property and would make very clear to the Cambodian people and others why Cambodia were forced to give in, if it does so.

7. PriMin continued by saying that GOC needed help and advice in planning what it should do regarding the formation and equipment of its troops. If the US were not to provide all appropriate equipment for new forces then perhaps it could advise Cambodia where to turn to obtain immediate equipment, either as a gift or through purchase. For instance, if so advised, Cambodia would turn to Indonesia or some other country in order to purchase helicopters and other aircraft.

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(Comment: I did not ask where funds for purchases were to come from but suspect he foresaw some sort of indirect US assistance.)

8. I again reiterated to Lon Nol the intent of the USG to help but that he should not expect too much or that he would be disappointed. My suggestion that Cambodia would probably be receiving some of equipment captured during present operations, he brushed aside as a temporary measure since he could not in future count on an assured source of resupply. I also mentioned possibility of replacing some of his Cambodian grounded aircraft on loan basis while others being put into condition but was again repulsed by statement to effect that T–28s and A–1s were “too small” and that Cambodia wished to possess more important type of aircraft.

9. In the course of our discussion, I made particular point to reemphasize to the PriMin that negotiation for a peaceful settlement in Vietnam and throughout area continues to be the President’s primary hope and that it not our intent or desire to see war prolonged longer than necessary.

10. At the conclusion of our talk, I assured PriMin that I would pass on his feelings to my government and looked forward to further discussion.

11. Comment: From foregoing it is obvious that we are in for a less warm period in our relations with the Lon Nol government unless we can persuade other nations to play a role in the supply of equipment for the Cambodian armed forces. Nevertheless, I believe that our frankest discussion thus far did some good in bringing Lon Nol closer to earth as regards his expectations re US assistance and grandiose plans for Cambodian armed forces. One thing which I believe may be of assistance will be forthcoming visits of MACV officers who will be able discuss Cambodian military organization and perhaps offer some suggestions. In this, however, we shall have to be careful that USG does not become overly involved.2

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 CAMB/KHMER. Top Secret; Nodis; Khmer; Priority.
  2. Rives made this point in more detail in telegram 909 from Phnom Penh, May 14, stating that “I have the increasing feeling that US/ARVN effort in Cambodia risks getting out of hand despite its very real success to date. At times I feel Saigon and COMUSMACV losing control, though this is probably due my lack of full details plans and operations.” Rives wondered what would happen to Cambodia after the ARVN and U.S. left, noting that the sanctuaries would undoubtedly revert to NVM/VC control because of Cambodia’s inability to reassert authority. Rives also feared that Cambodia was becoming dependent on U.S. support and the United States was entering into a commitment without much prior thought. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 589, Cambodian Operations, Chronology, Vol. II, Nodis/Khmer, through 25 May 1970)